Moon Over Buffalo cast

The torrential November rains are upon us, washing away the last traces of golden summer sun.

Vancouver’s Metro Theatre offers a jaunty remedy for the blustery blues with this season’s presentation of Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo. The play echoes the same comedic style as last season’s Lend Me a Tenor, Ludwig’s most famous farce. The audience is treated to an unrestrained mix of energetic stunts, slapstick humour, and slamming doors.

As the lights dim, the audience is not given the expected house speech for Moon Over Buffalo; instead, we learn that Cyrano De Bergerac is about to begin. The curtains lift to find George Hay (David Wallace) and his troupe rehearsing a scene from Cyrano. Their less-than-enthusiastic performance exasperates George, who, along with his wife Charlotte (Michelle Collier), are both fading stage icons.

David Wallace, Michelle Collier, Julie Casselman
[David Wallace, Michelle Collier, Julie Casselman; photo by Brian Campbell]

The year is 1953 and Charlotte still has lofty dreams of becoming a movie star while George revels in the fame of their glory years. Unfortunately, neither has quite reached their envisioned grandiose heights of stardom and have yet to embrace the emerging medium of television. Instead, they’re in a Buffalo repertory theatre, performing Cyrano De Bergerac and Private Lives.

After a quick set change, the audience is transported backstage to meet Rosalind (George and Charlotte’s daughter) and Ethel (Charlotte’s nearly-deaf mother). Roz (Devon Busswood) has left the stage to seek a more “normal” life. She represents the adored child, resisting the path her family has laid out for her. Roz has returned to announce her engagement to Howard (Cory Haas), a boring, bumbling weatherman.

Howard’s awkwardness is convincingly executed by Haas’ fluid performance, avoiding excess buffoonery. Ethel (Sue Sparlin) is disappointed that Roz is not marrying Paul (Clifford Upham), her former fiancée (and stage manager for George’s company). Sparlin sparkles in her role as the feisty grandmother who refuses to neither wear her hearing aid nor miss any opportunity to make a snide comment. I would avoid being the target of her ire.

Julie Casselman, David Wallace, Cory Haas
[Julie Casselman, David Wallace, Cory Haas; photo by Brian Campbell]

As the play progresses, we learn that George has more problems than his fading stardom. His mother-in-law hates him vehemently, his actors leave the company because they’ve not been paid, and his one-night tryst with a young ingénue, Eileen (Julie Casselman) leads to complications when George’s wife learns of the affair. A frustrated Charlotte declares that she is leaving George for Richard (Cameron Forbes), a successful lawyer who has been courting her.

In the middle of this turmoil, George receives a call that famed film director, Frank Capra, is coming to see their matinee. Capra has garnered Oscar fame for movies such as It Happened One Night (1934) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). He is considering George and Charlotte as replacements for two injured actors in his current film. A thrilled George announces to Charlotte that this is their long-awaited shot at stardom. Charlotte however doesn’t believe him and leaves with Richard.

David Wallace in Moon Over Buffalo
[David Wallace as George Hay; photo by Tracy-Lynn Chernaske]

George, now despondent, drowns his misery in alcohol and disappears out the stage door. Later, Charlotte reads in the newspaper that Capra has indeed lost his actors. She returns to the theatre but neither she, Roz, nor Paul can find George. Desperate, they call all the pubs, as it has now become apparent that they must locate George for the show to go on.

The flow of the ensuing mayhem relies heavily upon precision timing from the actors within Dwayne Campbell’s cleverly designed set, featuring multiple doors. Wallace, as George, delivers an energetic performance from start to finish, and is particularly hilarious with increased inebriation.

Moon Over Buffalo cast
[Cast photo by Brian Campbell]

The fast-paced conclusion includes liberal doses of miscommunication, mistaken identity, confusion and drunken chaos. Yet somehow, all the unlikely circumstances appear to swirl together like a milkshake and are served up neatly in the end, with a bendy straw. Director Mike Mackenzie does an admirable job on his first collaboration with the Metro Theatre.

Moon Over Buffalo ramps up like a lumbering locomotive with a well-coordinated cast that switches seamlessly from track to track. Soon though, you realize that you’re on a runaway train and there’s no way to stop once the wheels are in motion.

This non-stop ride awaits audiences through November 30.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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